Mayor Durkan proposes major actions to achieve Vision Zero goals and increase traffic safety
inforrmation from the City of Seattle
Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced a series of steps to improve safety on City streets and reaffirm the City’s commitment to achieving the Vision Zero goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Mayor Durkan announced that the City will reduce speed limits to 25 miles per hour (mph) citywide, double the number of safety-enhanced traffic signals, invest in engineering changes to create safer streets, create a new crash review task force, and launch additional traffic safety education and enforcement tactics.
Speeding is a critical factor in traffic collisions; a pedestrian is twice as likely to be killed if hit by a car travelling 30 mph than a car travelling 25 mph. On roads where the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has already implemented a 25 mph speed limit, the department has measured a 35 percent reduction in crashes, a 20 percent reduction in severe injuries and deaths, and negligible impacts to traffic congestion.
“We must make our sidewalks and roads safe for everyone – too many of our residents have lost their lives in traffic incidents, often the most vulnerable. That is unacceptable,” said Mayor Durkan. “We are rolling out a series of investments and changes we know will work to improve safety in our City and help all our residents feel safe getting where they need to go.”
The City will also partner with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to reduce speeds on state highways within city limits, including Aurora Ave N on State Route 99 and Lake City Way on State Route 522.
“People travel in a variety of ways and should be able to do so safely to reach their destination, regardless if that’s on the interstate or the final feet to the door” said WSDOT Regional Administrator Mike Cotten. “WSDOT’s goal is zero deaths or serious injuries on our roads and highways by 2030 because one is just too many. With that goal in mind, we are committed to working closely with the City of Seattle, transportation service providers, and the traveling public to make this a reality.”
While Seattle is recognized as one of the safest cities in the country, serious collisions trended up in 2019.
“Addressing dangerous speeding is the only way for everyone to get around safely” said SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe. “As we design a transportation network that serves everyone, we have to prioritize saving lives as we manage our streets.”
SDOT will also double the number of intersections with leading pedestrian interval safety enhancements to 250 in 2020. These intersections give pedestrians a few seconds head start before cars get a green light, making pedestrians in crosswalks more visible. Studies have shown that leading pedestrian intervals can reduce the number of people hit by cars by 60 percent.
The 2020 Budget also adds $20 million to Vision Zero projects to build safety corridor projects on Highland Park Way, Boren Ave, Rainier Ave S, and MLK Jr Way – this builds on ongoing key safety corridor investments and bike safety projects planned in 2020. The City will also partner with WSDOT to implement $2 million of safety improvements on Aurora Ave N and build $8.5 million in safety investments on Lake City Way.
Over next two years, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) will also double number of red-light cameras and add safety cameras at five new school zones. SPD will provide 1,200 additional hours of enforcement on high-injury streets focused on giving warnings and driver education. Patrols will monitor intersections and bike lanes to discourage unsafe practices by drivers.
The City will create a new Major Crash Review Task Force which will convene a panel of experts to analyze every serious and fatal collision in our City and provide recommendations to prevent similar incidents from happening again. The City will also launch Vision Zero Street Teams raise awareness around transportation safety issues and educate the public about lower speed limits and other infrastructure projects.
Vision Zero Isn’t Working
By The Antiplanner | December 2, 2019 |
An article posted on the Atlantic‘s CityLab last week documented that many of the cities that have adopted “vision zero” policies have seen pedestrian fatalities sharply increase. These cities, notes the article, have “spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, rebuilding streets to calm traffic and reduce driving, lobbying for speed limit reductions, launching public awareness campaigns, and retraining police departments.” Yet Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, among others, saw sharp increases in pedestrian and/or bicycle fatalities after adopting Vision Zero policies.
This won’t be a surprise to Antiplanner readers. As described in Policy Brief #25, Vision Zero is an overly simplistic strategy that fails to solve the real problems that are causing pedestrian fatalities to rise.
Vision Zero is based on the observation that pedestrians hit by cars traveling at high speeds are more likely to die than if the cars are traveling at low speeds. So Vision Zero’s primary tactic is to reduce driving speeds. Vision Zero’s secondary goal is to reduce driving period by making auto travel slower and less desirable compared to the alternatives. Neither of these are working very well.
As Policy Brief #25 noted, the real problem isn’t speed but design. The fastest driving speeds are on urban freeways, yet they have the lowest pedestrian fatality rates because pedestrians are normally excluded from the freeways. Traffic on one-way streets tends to be faster than on two-way streets, yet pedestrians suffer fewer accidents on one-way streets because they only have to worry about traffic coming from one direction when crossing the streets.
Moreover, simply slowing daytime traffic doesn’t treat another major problem, which is unsafe behavior. More pedestrians die and the rise in fatalities is greater during the three-hour period between 3 am and 6 am than the nine-hour period between 9 am and 6 pm. Most fatalities are also away from intersections and a high percentage of nighttime pedestrians who died had alcohol in their bloodstreams. Presumably the same is true for the drivers, but the data don’t report driver alcohol levels for pedestrian accidents alone.
Better street lighting, better enforcement of driving under the influence laws, and policies aimed at discouraging people from crossing the streets outside of designated crosswalks, especially at night, would be more successful at reducing fatalities than increasing traffic congestion during rush hours, which is really what Vision Zero is all about.
We can say for certain that Vision Zero’s efforts to reduce driving have failed. Chicago and Los Angeles were the first major cities to adopt Vision Zero goals in 2012. Since then, per capita driving in Chicago has grown by more than 5 percent while in Los Angeles it has grown more than 2 percent.
For decades, traffic engineers followed a tried-and-true formula for reducing auto fatalities: improve roadway designs in ways that reduce the number and impact of accidents. Vision Zero has diverted cities from that formula in an overt anti-auto strategy that sometimes actually makes streets more dangerous (such as when one-way streets are converted to two-way operation). So it is no surprise that Vision Zero isn’t working.
About The Antiplanner
The Antiplanner is an economist with forty years of experience critiquing public land, urban, transportation, and other government plans.